Calgary Herald

Bogus travel reviews studied

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Can you believe Internet travel reviews? Nope.

When personal travel reviews first sprang up on the Internet, travellers were thrilled. Thousands of independen­t first-hand accounts of travel experience­s promised we’d get what we were paying for.

It wasn’t long, though, before a torrent of grammatica­lly perfect, wellwritte­n positive reviews seemed to fill every website. Then even the negative reviews started to purr with perfect prose as unscrupulo­us businesses wrote lies about the competitio­n.

Then the English majors were fired and starving first year university and ESL students and starving writers were paid a pittance per review to churn out false copy and it became impossible to tell if it was a real review or not.

The end of any credibilit­y came with the revelation­s that some hotels, resorts and other travel businesses were paying customers to write good reviews by offering free meals, discounts, etc.

Now new research from Cornell University shows that humans are completely unable to tell who is lying, but suggests that we might be able to counter “opinion spam” by computer analysis.

Using computatio­nal linguistic­s and psychology principals, a computer program counts the number of certain kinds of words and phrases, or shortage of them, to score incoming reviews. The program can pinpoint the fake reviews 90 per cent of the time.

Several companies, Amazon, Trip Advisor and others, are working on ways to fix the problem, and the Cornell research gives them the first good evidence-based hint as to how to clean up the millions of reviews on their websites.

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